Quinoa (KEEN-WAH). IS. AWESOME.
I’m not kidding. Okay so when I started teaching here and we did our “Buffet of Grains”, I actually hadn’t heard of quinoa (about 4 years ago). Since then, it’s almost being common place! It is offered at almost every grocery store (maybe in organic or gluten-free sections) and at Trader Joe’s. I’ve seen it on many a menu at restaurants that focus on healthier foods and even those that don’t.
The reason it’s so incredible is this… the protein! I originally read (and still read from certain sources) that it is a COMPLETE PROTEIN. OK so protein is made from amino acids. There are 9 essential amino acids, and when a food has all 9 it is considered a “complete protein”. This is ALMOST always animal products, but there are two exceptions! SOY BEANS (aka edamame, tofu, miso, tempeh.. um.. tofurkey), and QUINOA! Quinoa is considered a grain and treated as one though technically it’s not, since it doesn’t come from a grass. Anyways, when you eat quinoa, you’re body says “THANKS FOR THE CHICKEN!”.
Quinoa has a very mild flavor, mildly nutty, and can be subbed VERY easily for rice or couscous (and obviously, it’s WAY better for you than those other two).
1 caveat about my beloved quinoa. You know how animals and plants do cool things so they don’t get eaten? Like skunks spray funk. Well, quinoa has a coating, saponins, that make it taste bitter so that birds and insects will stay away. Isn’t that great? But we have to clean it off before prepping the quinoa or else it will taste yucky and bitter. Just find a sieve with small enough holes so the grain doesn’t fall through (you can use cheesecloth if you have that), and rinse until no more bubbles form, about 2 or 3 minutes.
Few more things; quinoa is great for vegetarians because it’s a WHOLE, REAL food (as opposed to the ridiculously processed tofurkey or chik’n fingers) that contains amazing protein. It can be made into a cold, pasta salad type dish OR even eaten for breakfast (cook with milk and brown sugar, pinch of salt). TRY it.
Recipe- Quinoa Pilaf
This recipe would serve 4 big, dinner size portions or about 6 side dish portions. It is basic and you could easily sub veggies or add a sauce/dressing you like at the end.
1 c. quinoa, uncooked
2 c. water
½ c. carrot, diced
¼ c. onion, diced
¼ c. celery, diced
2 tbsp. green pepper, diced
2 tbsp. red pepper, diced
2 tbsp. butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 tsp. oregano
½ tsp. salt
- Rinse quinoa thoroughly by placing the grain in a fine sieve. 2 to 3 minutes or until the water runs clear (no bubbles).
- Place quinoa and 2 c. water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. See the grains? They look sorta like birdseed.
- Reduce to simmer, cover, and cook until all of the water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). The grains will turn from white to transparent.
See those little white tails? That is the GERM of the whole grain. It is on the outside of each grain! And it lends a bit of crunchy texture to the finished product. When the tails pop you know it’s almost cooked. It will go from raw to cooked in about 10 -15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, saute chopped vegetables in butter until tender; stir in oregano.
I unfortunately forgot to get a pic of the veggies cooking. It’s pretty standard though. You know, veggies in a pan. Melt this butter first and then dump the veggies in and saute about 10 minutes (while your quinoa cooks). Also, when I make dishes that have a few different parts (like soups), I always sprinkle some salt on each level. Sprinkle about 1/4 tsp. salt over these cooking veggies. It will help them to release their water and soften even quicker.
- Add sautéed vegetables to cooked hot quinoa, mixing well. Add salt and stir.
Definitely taste before serving. I think it needs a bit more salt once it’s all said and done.
Regardless, over the years I have come to hope that my class leaves me some quinoa so that I can eat it for lunch, but lately they’ve been loving it! We didn’t have a bit left at the end of the period and they were all big fans!
Remember, this recipe is a very basic pilaf. If you want to jazz it up with your favorite dressing or sauce, have at it. It takes on whatever flavors you dress it with quite nicely.
Go buy some quinoa, your body will thank you!